Scripture: Job, chapter 34; 1 Corinthians, chapters 4-6
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NASB):
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people; I did not at all mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the greedy and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to leave the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or a greedy person, or an idolater, or is verbally abusive, or habitually drunk, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a person.
For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE EVIL PERSON FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.
(Note: when I capitalize parts of the Scripture reading, it is because that is how the NASB renders it. “Small Caps in the New Testament are used in the text to indicate Old Testament quotations or references to Old Testament texts.” [Explanation of General Format, NASB 2020]).
This passage brings two important issues to my mind. First, we are not to isolate ourselves from those who are not believers. Paul had previously told the Corinthians not to associate with sexually immoral people (verse 9). Now, he clarifies that statement by telling them not to associate with such people in the church. I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or a greedy person, or an idolater, or is verbally abusive, or habitually drunk, or a swindler… (This also confirms that Paul was concerned about any behavior in the Church which is not Christlike – not simply sexual sins.)
If we tried to avoid people who were sexually immoral, greedy, swindlers, or idolaters, we would have to leave the world. That is not practical; even more important, we would not be following Jesus’ example. Several times the religious leaders asked why Jesus ate and fellowshipped with “sinners and tax collectors.” Jesus’ response was something along the lines of “I came for those who are spiritually sick.” We cannot completely avoid people who are not believers, nor should we even try to do so!
Inside and Outside
That leads to the second issue: What business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Unfortunately, we need to be reminded of that frequently. Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world regarding sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). That’s the Holy Spirit’s job – not ours. Paul confirms that with his statement that those who are outside, God judges. The Holy Spirit may use our lives and our example as evidence of what a righteous life looks like (hopefully, He can do that!). He does not need us to go around pointing our fingers at people and condemning them. Those who are outside, God judges.
As followers of Jesus, we have committed to teach each other “to follow all that I commanded” (Matthew 28:20). That’s the point that Paul is making when he says not to associate with “such a person.” The intention is to make them aware of their sin and bring them to repentance and restoration. God had commanded Israel to do the same thing. Paul refers to several passages from Deuteronomy when he says, REMOVE THE EVIL PERSON FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. We are to hold each other accountable within the body; God judges those who are outside.
I fear that we get this backwards far too often. We are quick to condemn those who are outside the body, pointing out their sins. Meanwhile, we tend to ignore the sins of those who are part of our fellowship – because they’re our friends! Perhaps God is calling us to care enough about our friends to warn them when they’re in spiritual danger. And perhaps God is calling us to become friends with those who are outside, so they can experience the love and peace of Christ through us?
One of my pastor friends has a saying: “Why are we surprised when unbelievers act like unbelievers?” People who do not (yet) know Jesus will not come to faith because Christians yell at them and condemn them. Jesus didn’t yell at “sinners” and condemn them. He loved them! When they responded to Him, He called them to “go and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11, for example). However, they were not drawn to Him by judgment; they were drawn to Him by love. The world has plenty of judgment and condemnation; it does not have nearly enough Jesus. We are called to reflect His presence!
Father, thank you for reminding us that the world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples if we love one another. Jesus called us to love our neighbor as ourselves – and then defined “neighbor” in the broadest possible terms. Help us to follow His example today – to show Your love to those we encounter.
Thank you for also reminding us that our love for each other within the body means being willing to warn each other when appropriate. Help us to never do that with a sense of self-righteousness or satisfaction. Paul was saddened when he had to correct the Corinthians. When You lead us to correct each other, help us to do that with humility and grace. Amen.